In situ sketching

Watercolor 5×8

Why is it important to learn and practice on site sketching? Students often ask this common question when I take them out for on-site sketching. In situ sketching is a process of re-creation of a space in which we situate ourselves within the building and its environment. Such activity spurs us to have immediate embodiment and interaction with the building, site and surrounding environment. While sketching, we engage ourselves with not only seeing, but we also interact with the building and its surrounding environment through its materials, volume, smell, texture, temperature, existence. With all of our senses activated through the act of sketching, the particular moment allows us to develop perception both consciously and unconsciously. The experience develops our perception by focusing in on the link between line, form, texture, proportion, space, light and value, color and material. Additionally, in situ sketching engages us through the physical act of drawing when representing our thoughts and perceptions on paper. An act of on-site sketching fosters the critical correlation between mind and hand as a process of design thinking. Yet, the action of sketching cultivates a development of muscular facilitation such that sketching becomes unconscious in the creative process. While sketching a building, we see and experience a three-dimensional quality via walking through an actual building. We begin to learn, and piece together these perceptions to form a holistic understanding that goes beyond sight-seeing.¹Understanding architecture through drawing demands a certain activity from the observer. First, one needs to look at overall shape and proportion of observed architecture, and then create a rough sketch of form and shape by simple lines. Later on, one elaborates light and textures. The observation and re-creation process is an intuitive but necessary experience in order to fully understand the thing seen. In Experiencing architecture, Steen Eiler Rasmussen described a group of boys playing soccer in front of the enormous church of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome in comparison to tourists who visited the church for sight-seeing:

“I do not claim that these Italian youngsters learned more about architecture than the tourist did. But quite unconsciously they experienced certain elements of architecture: the horizontal planes and the vertical wall above the slope. And they learned to play on these elements. As I sat in the shade watching them, I sensed the whole three-dimensional composition as never before.”³

¹Jenkins, E. (2013) Drawn to Design: Analyzing architecture through freehand drawing. Basel, Birkhauser: 46.

² Rasmussen, S. (1993). Experiencing Architecture. MIT press: 17-34.